David Zuckerman, who was born at the dawn and doorstep of World War I and later helped shape Central Contra Costa County, died at his Walnut Creek home Thursday. He was 100.
"He was very driven," said his daughter Bernice Greene, of Orinda. "He came from Europe when the Depression had just started. He wanted to make it here, and he did."
Born in 1913, Zuckerman grew up in Czernowitz, now in the Ukraine but then located in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When World War I broke out in and around his town in 1914, Russian troops moved into the house where he and his family lived.
After the war, Zuckerman's father immigrated to Concord, and his family joined him there in 1930. Zuckerman earned a degree in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley, after which he joined Bethlehem Steel in Alameda. With his new wife, Rosalind, he settled in Walnut Creek, which would soon find itself at the epicenter of explosive growth.
Though Zuckerman was trained in engineering and construction, his real gift was getting things done. He helped found Lafayette's Temple Isaiah Synagogue in 1951. From 1975-77, he served on the board of trustees at a small medical facility named after naturalist John Muir.
"He helped in locating the land (for Temple Isaiah) and getting the loan," Greene said. "He was the second president. He was so strong-willed they couldn't work with him easily. But he learned his lesson. When he started working with John Muir, they loved him. He knew how to work on a board by then. John Muir was practically going broke when he joined them. One of the reasons I believe it is successful is because of his work there."
Helene Schwartz was working at John Muir Hospital during Zuckerman's time on the board.
"He led the board of trustees that helped develop the hospital," Schwartz said. "It was an incredible time to be living here and making a big difference. He was a very good leader. The community was lucky to have him."
Zuckerman, who served on a committee that developed Concord's master plan for growth, bought a parcel of undeveloped land at the corner of Treat Boulevard and Oak Grove Road -- the current site of Oak Grove Plaza.
"It was all walnut orchards," said his daughter Shirley Issel, of Berkeley. "He held onto that property for years until he was in a position to develop it."
Zuckerman worked as a property manager there from the shopping center's inception in 1967 until beset by failing health.
"He was very involved until a year ago," Issel said. "He said, 'God gave me this strength, and I'm going to use it.' He used to say he was not going to retire. And he didn't, until he had to.
"He was trying to figure out why God wanted him to be 100. He thought there must be a reason, but he never came up with it," Issel said. "I decided it was because on his 100th birthday he got a card from the Obamas and a phone call from the mayor of Concord (Dan Helix), who is 85 and knew a lot of people my dad worked with. They reminisced, and he got into such a good mood. It was just a very special moment in time."
In addition to Greene and Issel, Zuckerman is survived by daughter Suzy Gullett, of Plymouth, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held 11 a.m. Monday at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette.
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.